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Traversing the waterways

  • Debora Walker,

    Roles Conceptualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

    Affiliation PLOS Water, San Francisco, California, United States of America

  • Pierre Horwitz ,

    Roles Conceptualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

    Affiliation School of Science and Centre for People, Place, & Planet, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Australia

  • Jennifer Davis

    Roles Conceptualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

    Affiliation Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America

Starting a new journal is a journey–or rather a community mobilization, as it requires a whole lot of individuals committed to establishing and growing a unified vision. Everyone in the community—researchers, editors, authors, reviewers, readers, practitioners, and publishers, along with academic, government, industry and non-profit organizations from all corners of the world—has a unique and essential role to play. Along the way all members have an opportunity to learn a great deal, about the publishing business, one another, and the growing body of knowledge about the freshwater sectors writ large.

PLOS Water began publishing peer-reviewed freshwater research one year ago. Our first set of articles, released February 15, 2022, covered a range of topics including water and international trade, household sanitation services, water supply infrastructure, stormwater control, wastewater monitoring, and riverine pollution. These papers were accompanied by an inaugural editorial in which we laid out our vision and hopes for the journal, and how we might get there. We shared our aspiration for PLOS Water to be not just another venue for reporting science, but an active voice that influences and drives the future of the freshwater sectors.

Now at the one-year mark, we celebrate the progress that the PLOS Water community has made, and also take the opportunity to reflect on areas where we may have fallen short of our aspirations. We also offer a way through for the next phase, one that will consolidate our growth, advance equitable and inclusive community engagement, and continue driving the field towards a more open way of communicating freshwater sciences. This commitment to open science remains a core value of PLOS Water (and all PLOS journals); it is an important point of differentiation during this era of proliferation in water sector publishing. Acknowledging the very real exigencies of academic publishing, we concur with Schymanski and Schymanski [1] that freshwater scholarship explores something central to humankind and the life support systems on which we depend. As such, profit must be secondary to the propagation and distribution of the knowledges that will be our guide for future use and management of this common good. In fact, if we are to do as Schölvinck et al. [2] recommend “…to employ public involvement as an extra stimulus for the practical application of knowledge”, the public must have access to those knowledges.

How have we been doing with regard to our vision of building bridges across the fragmented waterscapes of research? In our first year we have published around 60 articles spanning most of PLOS Water’s scope, with 12 out of 14 sections represented to date. This is certainly gratifying, but publishing across subfields does not in itself foster collaboration among them. As we head into our second year, we will continue working to identify meaningful indicators of such ‘bridge building,’ along with testing strategies to advance this goal. Among these, we are particularly excited about developing calls for papers in collaboration with our editorial board members and partners within the broader freshwater community. Each call can bring together diverse disciplines, geographies, and sectors around a unifying theme, creating an opportunity for new connections while showcasing the breadth of research around that topic. This is one way we can help reverse the trend of ever-narrowing pursuit of knowledge in freshwater scholarship. In fact, we realize that our sections are as much guiding gauge posts as they are boxes in which we put manuscripts; encouraging an approach that celebrates interdisciplinarity.

Another motivation for launching PLOS Water was to help confront hegemonic science by fostering the participation of researchers from historically underrepresented geographies, institutions, cultures, and perspectives. Our aspiration is to build editorial boards—including our Academic Editors who maintain manuscript standards through a rigorous peer review process, and our Section Editors who represent the full breadth of our scope and help define our vision and priorities—that are representative of the larger community. Our combined editorial board currently includes 96 researchers from 36 different countries. They all volunteer their time and expertise to help PLOS Water thrive and make ethical, inclusive publishing accessible to our global community of water researchers. Geographies and cultures are also internal to countries, and we need to be attentive to such diversities; regions and peoples who have knowledge of water yet do not share the wealth and voice that might broadly represent the country.

Looking ahead, we want to build on this strong foundation by enhancing the diversity of perspectives we publish not only with respect to geography, but to career stage, disciplinary lens, and stakeholder role. We also want to increase diversity within our community of editors, authors, and reviewers by inviting Opinion and Review articles from authors with diverse backgrounds; by giving early career scientists the opportunity and platform to develop collections and calls for papers; and by empowering our entire community to take an active part in the peer review process and receive credit when they do.

We also want to see PLOS Water become a key source of information for all types of institutions that have an interest in fresh water. For example, the upcoming UN 2023 Water conference is one of the largest water events in half a century. It is also an opportunity for us to partner with stakeholders who share our beliefs that open, transparent sharing of knowledge and evidence is essential for accelerating progress toward sustainable development goals for the sector.

Lastly, we are committed to improving the author experience at PLOS Water. Our journal is only as good as the research we publish, and its success depends on authors choosing to publish with us. Researchers must weigh a myriad of factors when choosing a publishing outlet, but a fast and rigorous peer review process is always an important consideration. There is naturally a balancing act between the expectations of authors and the time and availability of our editors and reviewers (who, after all, are all volunteers), but the fact remains that scientific progress accelerates only if new research is made available broadly and quickly. Our just-launched partnership with the preprint server EarthArxiv can contribute to this objective [3]. We also know that we will need to improve our efficiencies and the support offered to editors, reviewers, and authors. We are optimistic that such efforts will enable all parties to navigate the scientific publishing process with minimal delays and frustration, while upholding the high ethical standards and scientific rigor for which PLOS is well known.

Along the way, we remain grateful to those who have contributed—already providing passages and channels for us. And our desire to hear from community members is undiminished. Some things don’t change.


  1. 1. Schymanski EL, Schymanski SJ. Water science must be Open Science. Nature Water. 2023; 1(1): 4–6.
  2. 2. Schölvinck A-FM, Scholten W, Diederen PJM. Improve water quality through meaningful, not just any, citizen science. PLOS Water. 2022; 1(12): e0000065.
  3. 3. Morton L. PLOS partners with EarthArXiv for 2023. 2022 Dec 8 [cited 30 January 2023]. In: PLOS Blogs Latitude [Internet]. San Francisco.